Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It's been a busy week...

As you know, I arrived in Arusha last Wednesday with Marianne, Jasen and Margaret.  We are still here.  I'm going to apologize up front - this post may be brief.  We are all pretty tired.  Every day we seem to find more and more kids that need medical check-ups.  Jane's Orphan Center was the first location we went to.  Since that day we've seen around 250 children.  About 20% of the children have some sort of sinus infection, ear infection, or respiratory infection.  After we complete the check-ups we head to the duka la dawa (pharmacy), buy the necessary prescriptions and head back to the hotel for a much needed night of rest.  We label all of the prescriptions in English and basic Swahili so that the children are sure to get the proper dose at the correct times.

One woman, Bibi (grandma) Maria is 95 years old.  She is an absolute joy.  I can't imagine how hard her life has been.  And to still be alive and kickin' at 95?!  That's incredible.  She has pretty severe rheumatoid arthritis.  Yesterday we gave her some medication for R.A. and today we got to see her again.  She was all smiles.  We can't understand much of what she says as she speaks more of her tribal language than Swahili, but we do know she had the best night of sleep she has had in a long time.  It is so great to see the immediate impact we are making here.

Changing gears a bit:
I got electrocuted this morning - and for those of you who have encountered me before 10am you know that early morning electrocution will likely not make me a happy camper.  The hotel room has an electrical outlet that is hanging out of the wall and when I went to plug in my laptop this morning I got a pretty solid zap.  Marianne heard the "bzzzzz" and "pop" in the bathroom.  I felt it up my arm all morning long - and my finger tip got burned.  Annoying.  I was also pretty sick the past few days - nausea, dizziness, stomach pain, overheating.  For a while I thought I had gotten malaria, but thankfully I woke up feeling much better this morning.  I truly appreciate all of your prayers - they are obviously working!

I've been a bit spoiled in Arusha over the past week:  hot showers, warm beds with real mattresses, western toilets.  But even with all of the perks of hotel life, I miss my tiny room in Moshi and dinners with Fatuma and Sumaya.  They are a part of my home away from home and I am looking forward to returning to them tomorrow.

New pictures are up on the pics page.  Check them out when you have a moment.  The kids here are so precious!!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mama Jane

Yesterday, Ally, Marianne, Margaret, Jasen and I left for Arusha.  It is about a 2 hour bus ride to the west of Moshi.  Thankfully, Ally was able to drive us.  Thanks to his speedy - and terrifying - navigation around Fanta trucks and cattle, we were able to make the trip in just under an hour and a half.  After running a few errands, Jasen decided to book a couple of hotel rooms for us for the night.  Marianne, Margaret and I are staying in room 405.  Jasen is in room 305.  He could hear us down in his room screaming with delight when we discovered that our bathroom had not only a western toilet, but a jacuzzi tub in it, as well!!  I woke up a few times during the night last night and forgot I was even in Africa.

The medical clinic JustUsFriends is building won't be ready for another 3 or 4 weeks, but we have plenty to do in the meantime.  There are a handful of orphanages in the area who requested medical checkups for their kids so we decided to get a head-start on the work.  Today we went to Jane Olivolis' Orphan Center.  I met a woman named Jane who shared with me the story of why she started Jane's Center:

"I started the center because my husband and I found out we could not have children.  I cried out to my God and He said, 'Look around you.  There are children everywhere who need you.'  So I took one of them in.  And then another.  Soon we had several children under our care.  But we were struggling to feed them and provide for them.  So I cried out to my God again, saying I could not care for all of these children.  He responded - and gave me more children to care for!  But he also provided for them.  I met a woman who committed to supporting the center and we were able to care for the children.  After some time, we began to struggle and I cried to my God again, 'God I am struggling.  We do not have the means to feed and clothe these children.'  When I opened my eyes, God brought more children to my doorstep!  But He has provided. I am also listening to my sister - she told me not to cry out to God anymore saying that we can't do it!!"

Sometimes it is easy to focus on what is not getting done here.  Or who isn't doing what they said they would.  Or what isn't going the way I had planned.  And then I meet people like Jane.  She reminds me to focus on what is being done!  Jane has over 200 kids in her care now...in only 6 short years.  She and her husband could not have biological children of their own.  But instead, they are directly changing the lives of more people than many of us could ever hope to positively impact.  I wish you could all meet Mama Jane and her children so that you could see for yourselves what I am finding difficult to convey to you in words.

Tonight, before dinner, Marianne decided to use her shower gel in the jacuzzi tub.  It made quite a few bubbles...sound familiar, Naomi?  About 20 minutes later she was sitting in the tub, in her bathing suit, listening to her ipod, drinking a Redd's malted cider and singing away.  It is one of those moments where someone else's joy becomes your own;  a great end to an even greater day.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hot Chocolate and Beef Jerky

Today while I was in the shower I couldn't stop thinking about how much I would love some hot chocolate and beef jerky.  I guess now that I have hot water and don't have to race to shower as quickly as I can in what feels like a bucket of ice, I have a few extra seconds to let my mind wander before the water runs out.  Funny how, no matter how far from the western world I travel, there are just some things I can't seem to live without.

The shower, by the way, is my next project.  It is in a small room no bigger than 3' x 4' and has an old wooden door that has pretty much swelled up and rotted so much that it won't shut.  Most of the back of the door is dusted over with a light coat of mold.  Needless to say, this is my next project.  We've decided to remove the door completely, hang a shower rod and curtain and put in a couple of hooks for a towel and clothes.  Locating a shower curtain here may prove to be as difficult as finding a bag of beef jerky in the supermarket - wish me luck!  I'm not sure how much longer us girls can take hanging our towels on the back of a moldy door.

As comical as much of this may be, I am reminded daily of how much we take for granted back home.  I know we say it all the time, but have you ever really stopped to think about it?  If we want beef jerky, we buy it.  If a door gets old, we replace it.  Sometimes we may need to wait until payday, but it still gets taken care of.  And even if it doesn't, things are never really as bad as they are here.  Don't get me wrong - I'm definitely not standing on any soapbox here.  When I was home this last semester I lived my life just like almost everyone else that I know.  However, recognizing that we take things for granted doesn't necessarily mean we should refrain from dinners out or stop going to the movies.  More importantly, I think it's a reminder that we should simply recognize how fortunate we are and remember to be truly thankful - even when life is tough and things are tight.  God's provisions for us in the past are a reminder that He will be faithful in the future.

This week Jasen, Marianne, Margaret and I will be going to Arusha to stay at the orphanage for a few days.  I can't wait!  Many of you may recall that my visit to Good Hope was one of the highlights of my trip in January.  Since then, the new orphanage has been completed and the medical clinic is nearly built.  There are 128 kids in the school and I can't wait to sit in on classes while Jasen, Marianne and Margaret give each of the children a medical checkup. I'm also secretly hoping that while I am in Arusha I can find a shower curtain and a few candles to bring back to the house.  As you may have seen in some of the pictures on the photo page, Fatuma absolutely loved the candle I brought - she had never seen one before.  Hopefully I can surprise her with a few more!

A few other things:  the weather here this time of year is perfect.  It has only rained twice - both times after dark - and it hasn't been over 80 degrees.  The power outages seem to occur more often than they did in January and last for longer periods of time.  As a result we always keep a flashlight (torch in TZ) or a lantern nearby in the evenings.  I'm riding the daladalas again and find that I actually sort of missed them in a weird, squooshed, circus car sort of way.  Sumaya and Fatuma watched Beauty and the Beast tonight on my laptop during the power outage and they absolutely loved it.  I think Jungle Book is still Sumaya's favorite though.  We'll have to see if Aladdin can take over the #1 spot on our next movie night.

Thanks for your prayers, emails, FB messages, and comments - they don't make home feel so far away.  I'll update you and be sure to add more pictures when I am in Arusha this week.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's the end of the world as we know it - or is it?

For those of you on Facebook you've probably already seen my latest FB update.  For those of you who haven't, let me fill you in.  Last night we lost power - again - around 6pm.  Nights without power are actually some of my favorite here in TZ.  We light lanterns and just enjoy each other's company.  No bright lights, no tv, no computers, no radio.  Just stories, laughter and chai.  Around 9:30pm everyone had gone to bed.  I went to my room to read and write in my journal for a while.  Strangely, around 5 minutes to 11pm I heard the prayers from the mosque - they are sung over a megaphone of sorts that broadcasts them across the city and surrounding villages.  The prayers also start precisely at the top of the hour so the early start was a bit odd.  Plus, I was sure the last prayers were around 8pm.

The trees and fields were lit by the full moon above.  Shortly after the prayers began, I heard people yelling in the distance.  Usually the neighborhood is quiet after dark, but last night there was a lot of commotion.  I didn't think much more about it and went to sleep around 11:30pm.  This morning, Fatuma began to tell what had happened - or what she thought had happened.  She was very worried last night.  She couldn't sleep.  The sky was lit with orange lights and people were running to the mosques, crying for help.  There was commotion everywhere.  I could see she was still frightened.  I tried to ask more questions using her broken English and my broken Swahili.  She thought maybe it was missile fire above.  After some frantic conversation, I decided to Google it (thank goodness for Google) and we discovered that it was a lunar eclipse.  And not just any lunar eclipse, but the biggest one in 11 years.  And, oh yeah, - I missed it!  I was in one of the best viewing spots in the world for the eclipse and I never saw it.    Of course.

Before I forget, I've added a photos page to the blog.  You can click on the "photos" link to the right to see pictures.  I will add more weekly.  You will notice that there are no pictures of the lunar eclipse.

Over the past few hours I've thought a lot about the commotion of last night.  The fear the villagers must have felt is indescribable, and ironically enough, unfounded and avoidable.  Unfortunately, this is often the case in Tanzania - all over the third world for that matter.  People fear what they do not know.  It is exactly for instances such as last night that education is so important.  Children in classrooms often share one single science book.  Many times it is 20 years old.  Doctors make guesses to the best of their ability on how to treat illnesses they have never seen before.  Traditional healers are murdering albinos in Tanzania because of an age-old taboo.

Thankfully, many organizations and individuals here in Tanzania are leading efforts to combat these injustices.  Schools like Good Hope in Arusha are teaching children math, science and English.  I met a volunteer this weekend who runs a computer lab high up in the mountains for the rural villages.  Access to the internet equals access to knowledge.  A couple of the girls I met from Denmark are working with a locally-based micro-finance organization that provides loans to small farmers to buy seeds, chickens and livestock.  The farmers are taught how to rotate their crops and increase egg yields from their chickens.  The organization is now looking into a program to help these farmers develop a savings plan to send their children to school.  There is another volunteer here who is working independently with a dairy co-op in a rural village.  He has constructed a plan to help increase dairy yields and decrease transportation costs leading to an additional 25% in income for the farmers in the co-op.

What I have found most inspiring is that every one of these volunteers is here on their own.  They aren't working for UNICEF or Amnesty International or the Red Cross, but they are still changing lives.  They each came to Tanzania for a short visit, saw a need and decided to return to address the need.  It doesn't take much more than a willing spirit to make a difference here.

I haven't quite figured out what my focus will be while studying here over the next year.  And for those of you who know me, well, you know this is driving me crazy.  I'm ready to start making things happen!  Nevertheless, I am encouraged by what I have seen in only 6 short days.  Whatever it is I decide to do, I know this is where I've been led.  And as I was reminded in Proverbs 4:11 last night I have been guided in the way of wisdom and will be led on the right path.

Monday, June 13, 2011


I've been back in Tanzania for about 3 days now.  In less than 72 hours I exceeded my maximum baggage weight allowance for the plane, managed to negotiate my way into the worst airplane food imaginable, ate my first (and what will be my only) burger in Tanzania, went camping out in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, slept on the ground - twice, and discovered termites in our house. 

Thankfully, I managed to talk my way out of the $200 overweight penalty, I didn't get sick from the burger (although it was closer to beef jerky than steak) and  now have a bed.  As for the airplane food, well, that was all my fault.  On my last flight to Tanzania, the meals were awful - "chicken or fish?"  This time, I thought I would beat the system so I called ahead to request vegetarian meals.  Little did I know in the world of Ethiopian Airlines vegetarian = vegan which meant I didn't get the brownie, mashed potatoes, croissant, yogurt or cheese omelet the guy next to me got.  Instead, I was blessed with soggy cabbage spring rolls, some sort of dry dairy free roll with margarine, and eggplant soaked in tomato sauce with rice.  Yummy, yummy!

Saturday night I went to the nearby town of Marangu and hiked up the foothills (aka: mountains!) to a campsite overlooking the valley and Kilimanjaro.  It was breathtaking.  There were 8 on the trip and we arrived shortly before nightfall.  There is a small village surrounding the campsite and one of the families from the village prepared a dinner of ugali (like stiff grits), beans, cooked cabbage, potatoes and stew for us.  We ate well and traded stories late into the night.  Unfortunately, thanks to the jetlag I woke up freezing at 3am and never fell back to sleep.  Around 5:30 I left the tent to spend some time reading (thanks Mrs. K. for the great book suggestion!) and watching the sunrise.  All in all, it was an incredible experience.  I am blessed to be back here.

For those of you who were following along on my last trip, I am in a different house in the same town of Moshi in Tanzania.  Our house mom, Fatuma, and her daughter, Sumaya, are living with us and it feels like my home away from home.  Fatuma takes such good care of us!  Jasen is here, as well as a woman named Margaret from New Zealand and a girl named Marian from Denmark.  We have room for two more volunteers in the house and I'll be screening applicants to fill up the space over the coming weeks.  While I can't say I am loving the fact that we only have a squat toilet, I am ecstatic about the fact that we have hot water for our showers.  That's Africa for you - you get a little, you give a little!

As I've said before, life moves at a little - o.k., a lot - slower pace here.  I thought maybe this time I would be more prepared for it, but it's only been 3 days and if I here "T.I.A." (This Is Africa) one more time, I may scream - or at the very least ban the use of that phrase from our house.  Unfortunately, it seems to be used more often as an excuse than an explanation.  I am thankful, however, to have met some great new friends here who are doing independent research or work with some smaller organizations that are making big differences in their communities.  Our conversations keep me encouraged and have sparked some ideas about what I will be able to accomplish here over the next year.

All in all, it is great to be back!  The transition has been easy and minus the Mac and Cheese I forgot to pack, I pretty much have everything I need here.  Thanks to everyone for sending me notes of encouragement and keeping me in your prayers!  You'll hear from me again soon!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I'm Going Back!

It’s been almost 5 months since I unpacked my bags from my first trip to Tanzania.  Now, I find myself repacking, less than 5 days away from the departure time for my next trip to Tanzania.  As some of you know, I’ve been blogging for JustUsFriends, the nonprofit started by Jasen Benton, a volunteer I met on my last trip.  This summer I will be back in Moshi working with Jasen and JustUsFriends.  I won’t go into all of the details here, but you can visit the link for JustUsFriends on the right to find out more about all of the progress they have made over the past several months.  I will have much more to share with you over the next couple of months.  I’ll update the blog more often once I am in Tanzania and will keep you all up to date on all of my activities.

I was recently awarded a Boren Fellowship through the National Security Education Program and the Department of Defense to study Swahili and conduct some of my own independent research in Tanzania.  At the end of the summer I will be travelling to Washington D.C. for an orientation and convocation ceremony for the fellowship.  Then, I will be flying to the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania for language and culture studies at the State University of Zanzibar in the fall.  The fellowship covers all of my studies and living expenses through June of 2012. 

The word “ecstatic” does not even begin to explain how excited I am to have received the Boren Fellowship.  Not only does it provide an opportunity to pursue some opportunities that I couldn’t have pursued without it – it also opens the door to several exciting career opportunities within the federal government.  As cliché as it may sound, I am truly honored to have received this fellowship and can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

So, now that you’re caught up on the past few months, join me over the next twelve and I’ll post more often and have plenty of stories to tell.  In the meantime, I’ll be spending the next 5 days trying to figure out how to pack a year’s worth of clothes, toiletries and beef jerky into 2 bags!

Oh, and one more thing:  You are welcome to visit anytime!!  Karibu, Tanzania!